I recently visited Wayne Gretzky distillery of my own accord. Well, it was actually in a Mazda, but let’s not hurt that last sentence too much, I thought it sounded cool.
I wrote up all I learned and saw and what my wife took pictures of here. Feel free to read it or ignore.
That said, I prefer to separate the whisky from the operation in these cases. It allows for a separation of facts and feelings. You know, like the current North American political system.
Now that we’re all saddened by what I said, let’s get onto the whisky, shall we?
Up first we have Wayne Gretzky Red Cask. I’ve reviewed this flagship before. Made at the secret Grimsby location, this whisky was aged for 3 years in American oak (no word on ex-bourbon or virgin, sadly) and then finished in ex-Red wine casks. Specifically those red wine casks that were used in the winery coalition, from Niagara.
As you’ve read before, I am not nice to red wine casks. I didn’t mind this the first time, however I didn’t know how much of a “gimmick” the whisky was going to be, so my expectations were quite low.
Let’s see how it is while my wife talks to the tour guide about wineries (she was getting sick of hearing about whisky).
Price: $39.95 CAD at the LCBO
Casks Used: American Oak and ex-Red wine casks (French Oak)
Colour: 5Y 8/8
Nose: Oak, red grapes, pear
Light nose still. Quite simple, very oak and red wine forward. It’s fruit and wood. Not much strength to it, probably due to the low abv.
That said, no off notes. So I guess that’s something. Right?
Taste: Raisin, caramel, corn, maple, oak
Nice raisin, rich notes. I have to say, I’m actually surprised at the taste again. The nose does very little to sell the whisky itself. Somewhat grain forward.
We were informed that more of the corn whisky went into this batch, so that makes sense.
Finish: Pepper, pear, wood, cereal, raisin
Hot, woody finish. Bunch of fruit. I can see why they finished this in red wine casks, as they are holding it up. Needs more time to develop.
Conclusion: A young, initial offering. The pros? Good wine barrels. I’ve had some red wine finished whiskies that in which the casks needed a viking funeral. Or at least become planters. And the taste was nice, not too “it’s a Canadian whisky”, which is nice to see. I like differentiation.
I could see having this in a cocktail.
The cons? It’s young, and hot, and cereal/corn forward. While it does have the rich notes of the raisin, it doesn’t have any vanilla development to really pump those up. Like a lot of grain whiskies, this needs more time in the casks.
Wayne Gretzky Ice Cask is the second offering, and the master distillery decided that he’d delve into even more wine casks that seem to be hanging around. In this case, Ice wine casks.
Ice Wine is a dessert wine that is harvested at -8 Celsius. It has a distinctive tropical fruit and honey note to it. Wayne Gretzky happens to make a Vidal ice wine. So Mr. Beach found some of these casks.
One thing to note: Other distilleries have used ice wine casks before, and the maximum you want anything finished in an ice wine cask is 6 months. In this case, the master distiller finished it for 4 months.
Again this is a rye whisky mixed with a corn whisky base, and the initial aging was American Oak. Still don’t know if it’s virgin, but does that really matter? Well here it does, but with people it doesn’t, so stop being a prude.
Let’s see how it tastes, shall we?
Price: Not yet available at the LCBO
Casks Used: American Oak and ex-Ice wine (Vidal) casks (French Oak)
Colour: 5Y 8/8
Nose: Floral, chocolate, caramel, peanut, light tropical fruit
Hey, the nose showed up to play this time! Congrats WGD, we have a contender!
Very wine influenced. Lots of chocolate, floral, and a little bit of tropical fruit. Can be a tad strong at first.
Taste: Caramel, grapefruit, pear, cereal, butter
Tart and sweet. Still has some of that cereal note that drains away the fruit as time comes on.
Seriously, it’s in my mouth, and then the fruit leaves. What is this, Thursday? So inconsiderate.
Finish: Caramel, pepper, cereal, macadamia nut
So the ice wine can only carry you so far. After having two previous Ice Wine cask finishes, I can tell you that it doesn’t work with a finish. Here we’re left with a minimal finish, with simple notes, lacking much else.
This finish could be in a Shakespearean monologue, struts and frets it’s minute upon the stage. And then is heard no more.
Conclusion: We’re getting better. According to a rumour I read, it took 100 different blends for Joshua Beach, the Master Distiller, to find the one he wanted. And I think he’s trying to use finishes to cut some time down before we truly see what he tastes. Or tastes what he sees. Or however humans work.
This has a much better nose, a nice taste that falls a tad short, and a finish that isn’t unpleasant, however is disjoint from the rest of the batch. Honestly this is the one I’d recommend over the red cask above, just because of the nose.
Wayne Gretzky Ninety Nine Proof is the one we all expected. I mean, beyond “Hockey”, “Canada”, “Tall”, and “Lakers”, what comes to mind when you think Wayne Gretzky? It’s 99.
So when the whisky came out, we all expected a 99 proof. However there’s also the issue that we live in a country that feels alcohol is the devil’s water. Thus anything with high amounts of alcohol in them is more devil, up to maximum devil.
Luckily they only made us wait until the 3rd release. The difference here is there’s more rye spirit used in this whisky, where as the others were more corn base. Also we know the red wine barrels this time, they are Cabernet Sauvignon.
Let’s see how it tastes, shall we?
Price: No idea, couldn’t find it
Casks Used: American Oak and Cabernet Sauvignon wine casks (French Oak)
Colour: 5YR 6/10
Nose: Oak, caramel, green tea, fig, orange, brown sugar
A nose to blow the others right out. Not literally. This isn’t a hanky. Strong. Lots of green tea and fig notes. Where as the Red Cask is faint red fruit, this is a richer, more distinct note.
So fig, for what I picked out.
Taste: Cinnamon, ginger, brown sugar, light cherry, oak, peanut butter
Spicy. Impressive. I’m actually quite sad at the last two drams, as this has what I was looking for, and I feel watering them down to near 40% removed it. If we didn’t have such a restriction in this province to have it so low, and maybe even have it at 46% would add some of that.
Red wine is more evident on the taste, with a light cherry and nutty note coming out.
Finish: Cinnamon, raisin, pepper, raisin again (lots of raisin), walnut, peach skin, orange
Very raisin forward. It’s actually somewhat unbalanced towards the raisin, and I’d recommend more time in the American oak and less time in the red wine to balance that out.
Granted I’m some schmuck on the internet and for all I know a lot of raisin is the price we pay for spice, so take that with a grain of raisin. We ran out of salt when I ranted about the province again.
Conclusion: The best of the bunch and the one you should buy. This is very promising. Yes, it’s still young, and they still need some time to let it age up. However of the bunch, this one I enjoyed sipping on the most. Really did enjoy the different flavours.
I feel like the oak notes need more time to develop, the finish was unbalanced. That said, some tweaks could easily launch this into a must-have Canadian whisky area.
World Whisky reviews #265-267, Canada reviews #91-93, Whisky Network reviews #1167-1169